Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

U.S. Attack on Iraq Provokes Anger across the Arab World

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

U.S. Attack on Iraq Provokes Anger across the Arab World

Article excerpt

The U.S. attack on Iraq provoked angry reactions throughout the Arab world, where protests grew daily in number and size as citizens expressed anger at the United States and their own governments, and solidarity with the people of Iraq. When asked by the Washington Report to explain these initial reactions, Arab News editor-in-chief Khaled al-Maeena offered one simple reason for the overwhelming sense of anger and frustration sweeping the "Arab street": "The Iraqi people have suffered for a long time," he stated. "They have suffered under the rule of tyrants, they have suffered deprivation, they have suffered the stripping of their political rights, they've suffered social and economic problems, and we believe that a protracted war, even a short war, is going to cause them more suffering and innocent people are going to die."

While empathy with the people of Iraq was the main reason usually cited for opposing the war, there were others. Some wondered whether Iraq was the only target of Washington's war, or whether the Bush administration planned on pursuing step-by-step domination of the Middle East-specifically those nations rich inoil and water. Many questioned the wisdom of bypassing the United Nations and pointed to the double standard in the Bush administration's respective treatment of Iraq and Israel. Finally, many protesters were expressing opposition to their own governments for failing to stop the war.

The last reason has been the worst nightmare of most Arab governments since George W. Bush first announced his intention to. "disarm" Iraqi President Saddam Hussain. Arab leaders warned the U.S. that, should an attack occur without UN. approval, the reaction on the Arab street would be unpredictable, and could possibly destabilize the entire region. In the first week of the war, that is exactly what appeared to be happening in several Arab capitals.

The Peninsula

Opposition to the war runs deep in the Middle East, even in the oil-rich Gulf states, whose governments are considered long-time friends of the U.S. In Bahrain, home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, protesters outside the British Embassy overturned vehicles, detonated gas canisters, and scuffled with riot police firing rubber bullets. In Yemen, 30,000 anti-war demonstrators clashed with police March 21 outside the U.S. Embassy. Police used tear gas, water cannon and, finally, gunfire to disperse the crowd, killing two people and injuring dozens. The next week, the protesters were back-and their number had doubled.

Bahrain and Yemen were exceptions in the Gulf, where most citizens found other ways to express their opposition. In Dubai, a number of charity organizations organized a national telethon benefit a scant five days after the first bombs fell. Things were generally calm in the UAE, with few residents expressing fear for their physical safety. However, noted vice president Elias Bou Saab of the American University in Dubai, "We cannot ignore the fact that people in the UAE are affected emotionally. People are sad in the manner the war has broken out and that thousands of Iraqi civilians will suffer."

By its ninth day, the war had galvanized men and women throughout Saudi Arabia, where public protests are forbidden. People instead issued calls for the boycott of American goods, and held anti-war poetry sessions and peace prayers. "How come," wrote Saudi journalist Nada Al-Fayez, echoing the thoughts of Arabs across the Middle East, "as a world policeman, Bush wants to punish. one criminal, Saddam Hussain, and leave another criminal, Ariel Sharon, alone?" She reported that some Saudi women were donning military fatigues at private parties and boycotting Western fashions "in solidarity with the Iraqi people."

An obvious exception to the widespread trend of opposition in the Gulf was Kuwait, whose citizens have a unique perspective on this war given their liberation from Iraqi occupation by a U.S.-led coalition force in 1991. …

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